Though relatively unknown, Garbage have bin there, done that with Nirvana, U2, L7, Smashing Pumpkins and, erm, Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie. For amongst their number they include Butch Vig, Duke Erikson and Steve Marker, seminal producers who are now on the other side of the desk. AMY RAPHAEL compares nail varnish with the million dollar quartet.

The first thing you notice about Butch Vig are his fingernails. They are not chewed to the quick as, perhaps, you'd expect after three intensive days of British media promotion. No. Rather, they are perfectly filed and painted blue.

It's late on a Wednesday evening and his band Garbage are here in a photo studio to pose for their final picture session and to do their final interview. While they wait, Butch sways from side to side and nods his head in appreciation of Massive Attack's 'No Protection' and Earthling's 'Radar'. After a few minutes, he flops onto a nylon sofa and occasionally makes the effort to lean forward, putting his hand up inside the back of singer Shirley Manson's T-shirt and scratching her spine with his comically glamorous fingernails. "If you massage the skin afterwards," he says, lazily pressing on her back, "it absorbs the scratch."

In another corner of the studio, a sombre-looking Duke Erikson (who lends a hand by playing guitar, bass and keyboards) is having his nails painted a fluorescent yellow by Garbage's British manager. He carefully examines a completed hand and frowns. "This stuff'll come off in five years. Jeez, this yellow stuff makes it look as though I really smoke some." Meanwhile, guitarist Steve Marker, his nails a fetching shade of sky blue, sips a bottle of beer and avoids catching anyone's eye.

None of this, of course, is quite what you'd expect from American creatures of the studio, three legendary backroom boys who have been working together for more than a decade, producing the likes of U2, L7, Smashing Pumpkins and, most conspicuously, Nirvana. Add on Shirley and it's definitely not what you'd expect from the band who have effortlessly put pop nous into industrial noise and who should, by the end of the year, be rivalling the bands whose sound they have helped define. Butch, suddenly aware of an unfamiliar presence, clasps his hands around his cheeks and says in mock camp tones: "We did it out of desperate boredom."

As soon as Brian Vig's hair was long enough his father would produce the scissors, about once a fortnight, and give him a butch cut...

"Which is the same as a crew cut," he explains. "Everyone started calling me 'Butch', and the name stuck. My name always confuses people - I've had a couple of Bruces over the past few days. I recently received a parcel addressed to 'Mr Butch Big' and, when we were doing press in Germany, the journalists kept asking, really earnestly: 'Botch Wig, what is the essence of Garbage?'"

Butch's mother was a music teacher and so her son learned to play piano for almost six years. Until, one day, he turned on the TV and saw The Who for the first time.

"I thought Keith Moon was the f--cking coolest thing I'd ever seen," he says, his admiration plainly still intact. "So I bugged my parents into getting me a drumkit and eventually they bought me a micro-kit. I broke my mother's heart, because she wanted me to continue with the piano, and I drove my parents crazy by playing so badly."

When he was in junior high, Butch's parents gave in to their son and let him go to his first gigs. "I saw Glen Campbell and Steppenwolf on consecutive weekends. The kicker is that my friend and I had an option to go and see Jimi Hendrix instead but while Steppenwolf had these hits on the radio - 'Born To Be Wild' and 'Magic Carpet Ride' - I didn't have a clue who Hendrix was."

Butch met Duke at college and, with Butch improving his drumming technique, they played in a selection of going-nowhere bands together before teaming up with Steve to earn some cash by producing. They've never stopped being in bands since, but their individual and collaborative success in the studio has always attracted more attention.

In 1991 Butch had a near-religious experience while producing a bunch of semi-unknown Seattle punks which he still recounts with an incredulous look.

"I went into the rehearsal room and Nirvana were playing this song I'd never heard at stun volume. It sounded awesome. Kurt said it was called 'Teen Spirit' and I made them rehearse it ten times. It was just a great song."

The rest, as they say, is history. Vig's production work on 'Nevermind' injected pop into Nirvana's caustic sound, helped make rock hip again, earned the producer a fair few dollars and made him almost famous.

The regular pay cheques weren't enough to keep Butch, Duke and Steve locked in the studio, however. They formed another band, called it Garbage (it's supposed to be ironic) and took a hard look at themselves. Three American blokes playing guitars, drums and bass and getting on? Not very sexy. They wanted what Butch refers to as "a feminine perspective" and spotted Shirley singing with Angelfish.

More impressed by her "low and intense vocals" and her first experiences of live music being Adam And The Ants and Siouxsie And The Banshees than the fact that she was once in the sardonic Scottish pop group Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie, they asked her into the studio. After a few abortive meetings, they stole her away from Angelfish and her home town of Edinburgh.

And so, in the wake of grunge Ringo's Foo Fighters, we're presented with grunge Curve. With synths and samples, distorted guitars and harsh but sweet vocal reminiscent of Patti Smith, Garbage have taken over where Toni Halliday's cybergoths left off, upping the industrial angle and throwing even more belligerent lyrics into the mix. The band describe their sound as 'dark pop', and claim it's inspired by their fascination with abuse, deception and people's hidden sides.

The fine first single, 'Vow', was limited to 1,000 copies and sold out within weeks of its release in March. The follow-up, 'Subhuman', is even harder and more euphoric: it's the sort of industrial-pop-rock-record-with-a-hidden-melody, never-ending layers of samples and deep, evil vocals that should make Trent Reznor sweat.

Garbage have spent most of the year recording their debut album (due out in late September) and are still hardly able to believe they have exercised enough discipline to stop fiddling about with clever effects in the studio.

"One of us would have to put our foot down to stop the others obsessing," says Duke, lighting a cigarette and examining his yellow fingernails.

"Yeah," continues Butch with a grin, "we'd all leave and then one of us would sneak back in and tinker the songs some more."

While none of them have felt as content with a record before, they are all cynical about the success awaiting them.

"When we were looking to secure a record deal," explains Butch, "we sent out tapes with only the band's name on it and garnered a lot of interest just from the product. Once we started talking to labels, silly offers started coming in and it was so obvious that some people hadn't even bothered listening to the tape."

But as soon as 'Vow' was released on a compilation CD towards the end of last year, even the countless people who enthused over it described Garbage as "Butch 'Nevermind' Vig's band".

"I doubt we'd have got the same degree of attention if it wasn't for Butch's Nirvana connection," says Shirley with a shrug. "Until people have the music at their fingertips, it's the only newsworthy thing. People will want to listen to us because he's involved, or they'll totally disregard it for the same reason."

It's the end of a long day which began with the band suffering from crippling hangovers. They drink beer (Steve, silent for the whole interview, amuses the others by drinking Bacardi and Coke) and wonder if their 'dark pop sound' will make them more successful here than in America - convinced, as they are, that pop is more acceptable in the British music market.

Do you have to prove yourself with Garbage, Butch?

He pauses for the first time all evening. "Not really. I have to make a record which I can relate to in some way. It's not a case of selling millions of copies. Obviously we wanted to make a successful record but I originally thought that we'd put it out and do some publicity but that we wouldn't tour.

"Now I think we will, though Shirley is the only one who has any experience of being on the road. It's weird because we've made a pop record but we're not pop stars: there's no way we look like Take That. We're not handsome and we've yet to sell any records."

And if it all goes horribly wrong?

"If this completely f--cks up, I'm not sure what I'll do, I'm not sure I could give it another go." Duke joins in, "I've never had so much fun before: this is me having fun."

"You have to move on and exorcise your demons," says Butch, looking nostalgic for a moment. "There is no way, no way, I will make a record as critically and commercially successful as that record. Ever. So what am I going to do? Retire? Just sit around and tell people that I made 'Nevermind'?" He shakes his head, catching sight of his nails. "Oh God! I forgot about these! How can anyone be expected to take me seriously?"